The Q&A Archives: Mulch On Garden

Question: Would it be good to mulch (grass clippings, straw)around my tomato and pepper plants?

What kind of fertilizer should I use for azaleas? I know they need acidic soil.

Answer: Mulch helps to keep the soil more evenly moist and also helps feed the soil when it breaks down over time. So yes, in my experience it is always good to use an organic mulch around all kinds of plants including the tomatoes and peppers. If you use grass clippings, make sure they have not been treated with herbicide or pesticide. Fresh grass clippings may mat and make an impervious layer if used exclusively, so it is better to mix them with some old chopped leaves, or possibly compost them before use, or add them only a little at a time and fluff them as needed. Straw makes an excellent mulch in the vegetable garden, is easy to apply, and any remaining at the end of the season can be left in place to rot down further over the winter. Whichever mulch you use, apply it in a layer two to three inches thick and do not allow it to touch the stems of the plants.

Azaleas can be fertilized with a granular fertilizer formulated for acid loving plants such as Hollytone and/or compost. Read and follow the label instructions. You should also run some basic soil tests to check the pH and fertility levels of the soil. Then you can fine tune your amendments and fertilizer program based on the results. Your county extension should be able to help you with the tests and interpreting the results.

For azaleas, a mulch is critically important because the plants are shallow rooted. If you can use an acidic mulch such as chopped oak leaves or pine needles, so much the better. A good quality double shredded hardwood bark mulch would be another fine choice, but again, any organic mulch applied two to three inches thick year round will do. These plants prefer a humusy organic soil so the rotting mulch is very beneficial to them.

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